A House on the Bayou Is a Twisty Southern-fried Fable

A few weeks ago, while researching our trailer of the week articles and putting together our list of upcoming horror movies, I stumbled upon A House on the Bayou. The trailer presented a fascinating horror tale of home invasion in a strange location. It was a bit mythical, but you could tell it was playing something relatively close to the chest. Hence why, if you follow our trailer of the week articles, you never saw it featured. However, it was intriguing enough to keep a bit of buzz in my ear, and I’m glad it did.

A House on the Bayou starts with a very methodical opening. John Chambers (NOS4A2‘s Paul Schnieder) returns home one afternoon to find his wife, Jessica (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan), distraught in their living room. Jessica, sitting in a remarkably stylish pantsuit, appears to have taken off from her work as a realtor after discovering the indecent behavior of her husband, which she lays out in photographs across the living room table. Jessica says she doesn’t want a divorce but for John to immediately stop seeing his grad student, Vivienne (Creepshow’s Lauren Richards), for their daughter Anna (The Lodge‘s Lia McHugh) to never find out, and a family vacation in a location of her choosing.  

Jessica and John lounge in chairs by the pool, while Anna soaks up the sun in a float in the pool in A House on the Bayou

Jessica’s career as a realtor presents the unique opportunity to travel to southern Louisiana, where a large unoccupied house is about to go on the market. Vacant for some time, a trust has inherited the estate and has recruited Jessica to take photos for a virtual tour of the home in order to sell the property. The trust allows Jessica and her family to stay at the peaceful location, enjoying its amenities with neighbors outside of earshot. Still, solace will be hard to come by on this vacation. 

After enjoying time by the pool after the drive to the house, Jessica insists on making veal cutlets for dinner. A squabble ensues. The first thing that crossed my mind was that John should shut the hell up and just get the damn veal cutlets from the store twenty miles away. John’s kneejerk and adolescent reaction is to put their daughter in the center of the argument to appeal with tantrum-like veracity he doesn’t want to eat veal this evening. John becomes loathsome. Regardless, he heads to the store with Anna, where they meet A House on the Bayou‘s villains.  

Up until this point, the atmosphere has been moody. There’s some tension between John and Jessica, but it never appears as dangerous or threatening. While in the store, Anna meets Isaac (The Son’s Jacob Lofland), who charms her into a starry-eyed glaze of teenage hormones run amok. Their meeting is quick and suspicious, as Isaac runs away just as John returns to the checkout area. The other person we meet is Grandpappy (Doug Van Liew), who sternly looks on as Chambers checkout with their hamburger meat and writes a note telling John, “The devil is watching you!” 

Isaac charms Jessica and John at their front door in A House on the Bayou

Shortly thereafter, Isaac comes knocking on the Chambers’ door, offering southern hospitality by way of cooking a veal dinner for the family. As Jessica is the one to converse with Isaac, this places John in the hot seat. The native Louisianans return when their oven dies and insist on cooking the meal in the Chambers’ house. Once inside, Isaac begins letting his veneer fall away, and it becomes frighteningly evident to Jessica that the visiting locals have been in the house before. A cat and mouse game ensues between the Chambers and the Louisianans, with artful illusions presented with supernatural overtones.  

First of all, A House on the Bayou’s cast is incredible. Everyone embodies their character with such ease and confidence it makes A House on the Bayou an effortless and enjoyable watch. Angela Sarafyan, who has credits as far back as Judging Amy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (series), comes into her own as the lead role here, proving she’s more than just the pretty face of Westworld’s Clementine. Paul Schneider works as her weaseling husband and offers the audience something to despise more than the would-be kidnappers. The ominousness of the visiting Isaac and Grandpappy increases tension and the cumulative fear for Anna’s life and strikes a forceful tone, increasing the immediacy for action. In essence, I don’t think the film would have succeeded in building nerve-shredding drama without the movie’s standout performances, though some of that credit is also due to Joseph Stephens’ fantastic score.

The film’s moral compass is intriguingly offbeat. While the events of A House on the Bayou range from lighthearted to sinister, there’s this overbearing theme of good versus evil. Granpappy reveals the meaning behind his note to John, saying that some people invite the devil in, implying Isaac and he are here attending to matters on the devil’s behalf. Throughout the film, Anna is the only indication of innocence, incurring frequent nosebleeds that usually strike at moments of high tension around Isaac.

John threatens Isaac, covering his mouth with his hand in A House on the Bayou

The film’s structure is another story. There’s a reason I lingered on the plot point of the veal earlier. The film leads you into this evidentiary nook from a highly suggestible array of puzzle pieces right from the start. I surmised a long con was at play when it became notable that moments at the beginning of the film were assumed instead of shown, and perhaps Jessica had lured John here for righteous justice. I mean, who cooks veal their first night on vacation? In my experiences, that is typically reserved for fast food or, and I hate agreeing with John on this, something as simple as burgers on the grill.

I began to suspect the veal was the activation of Jessica’s plan to have John killed, and the hired gun was the clerk at the store. We never see the sign for the store that Jessica insists exists twenty miles up the road. Plus, she has had access to the house. Suppose we remove the assumption that Jessica just found out about John’s affair and instead consider the possibility that she’s only just told him she knows about it. In that case, the plot becomes less supernatural and frighteningly realistic. So, when John lies to Anna, saying there wasn’t any veal in stock while checking out with the store owner, Grandpappy, I theorized his realization of John as his target and Jessica’s plot to get revenge on her husband was a go. 

Obviously, I wouldn’t tell you this if that part of the plot turned out to be how the film unfolded, though my insights remain valid as the film persists in suggesting that. There’s even some semblance of it in A House on the Bayou’s ending, which may infer that the film’s script has undergone many changes since the original draft. The twists are anything except what you’re expecting, which both satiates my thrill of the film’s unpredictability and fails to capture the essence of the story’s legitimacy. In some regards, the movie is excellent. When you think it’s going one way, it pulls a one-eighty and heads in the opposite direction, appealing to the Holmesian nature of any viewer. I didn’t get the A Perfect Murder adult-thriller-styled ending I was hoping for, opting instead for a profound supernatural curveball. I found Alex McAulay’s film to be a damn good ride filled with rollicking turns and a thick, creepy atmosphere. It may not be a perfect trip to the bayou, but it’s a lot of fun for what it is.

A House on the Bayou is now available on Epix and VOD.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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